The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses is above all a precise reconstruction of the time and place that provide the background for all Giorgio Bassani’s major fiction: the middle class and professional world of Ferrara, as seen from the vantage point of a member of the city’s well-established Jewish community. Fascism was at its height during the last years of the 1930’s, a period marked by the cementing of the ties between Italy and Nazi Germany, and the passing of the Special Laws against the Jews. The mounting climate of intolerance takes its psychic and physical toll on the characters in the novel.
Dr. Athos Fadigati is a distinguished physician, with a flourishing practice in Ferrara, as well as being the head of the ear, nose, and throat department of the city’s main hospital. The children of most of the best families in Ferrara have been under his care, and even the narrator remembers having his tonsils removed by Fadigati. Since the early 1920’s (and coinciding with the new order imposed by the Fascist regime on Italian society), Fadigati’s life has been one of unruffled professional advancement. Nevertheless, Fadigati has a weakness that threatens his seemingly impregnable social status. He is to be found during the evening frequenting the stalls, and not the balconies, of the local cinemas, or favoring the more popular and lower-class areas of town rather than the cafes of the major boulevards; wherever, in short, groups of proletarian youths, soldiers, perhaps, or knots of soccer fans may be gathered. Imperceptibly, Bassani brings his respectable bourgeois chorus, which has hitherto been preoccupied with finding the doctor a suitable wife, to the conclusion that Fadigati prefers men to women.
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